REMEMBER the scene in the "Jewel of the Nile" in which Kathleen Turner joins a group of African dancers as they cavort around a bonfire? Though that scene provided members of the National Dance Company of Senegal with unprecedented exposure, it merely hinted at the energy, rhythmic sophistication and physical prowess of this troupe.
Unlike so many ethnic ensembles, the Senegalese dancers eschew the pandering, travelogue approach in favor of a far more authentic and deeply felt performance style. Some of their dances tell stories. Others simply celebrate the flexibility of the human form: arms rotating like windmills, hips rocking back and forth as if over some well-worn groove, feet pounding mightily on the floor.
The 20-some dancers and musicians work as a truly unified force, with each individual moving into the spotlight for a time and then fading back into the whole. There's a place for the stiltwalker, the contortionist, the rubber- bodied tumbler. One dancer will emphasize the head, another the buttocks. A flutist plays, then a xylophone is featured. This balance and exchange of energy are infectious; rare indeed is the spectator who can resist moving, clapping or calling out in response.
NATIONAL DANCE COMPANY OF SENEGAL -- Friday at 8:30, Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Call 254-3776.